Former Iranian President Declares

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, gestures to his supporters during a gathering in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday Feb. 3, 2009. Calls have been steadily growing for Khatami to come out of political retirement to challenge hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, gestures to his supporters during a gathering in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday Feb. 3, 2009. Calls have been steadily growing for Khatami to come out of political retirement to challenge hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June's presidential elections. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian) (Hasan Sarbakhshian - AP)

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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 9, 2009

TEHRAN, Feb. 8 -- Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami announced Sunday that he will run as a candidate in the June 12 election, setting up a challenge to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that could alter Iran's domestic and foreign policies.

"Here I am saying that I will very seriously take part as a candidate for the election," Khatami told a meeting of supporters.

Both men fully support Iran's Islamic system of governance by a supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but differ sharply on issues such as foreign policy, the handling of Iran's ailing economy and the implementation of Islamic rules in society.

Under Ahmadinejad, efforts to uphold Islamic dress codes have become more active. Art, music and film are under tighter governmental control than during Khatami's tenure from 1997 to 2005.

"Khatami is running to counter Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, domestic policy, all his policies," former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a staunch ally of Khatami, said in an interview. "With Khatami running, the election will be polarized."

Throughout his two terms, Khatami sought a detente with the West. Iran agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for incentives from Western countries, although the parties never agreed on what those incentives should be.

When Ahmadinejad became president in 2005, Iran restarted its enrichment program, a move that was backed by Iran's top clerical leaders.

Iran is currently the subject of three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions over the nuclear enrichment program. The United States suspects that Iran is enriching uranium to make a nuclear weapon. Iran says that its nuclear program is aimed at generating energy and that it has signed all necessary international treaties that grant countries the right to produce nuclear energy.

"For the first time since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the Iranian people will be able to choose between candidates whom they know, whose policies they are familiar with," said Mohammad Atrianfar, who was an official under Khatami.

Ahmadinejad's press adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, said it made no difference to the government who became a candidate. "What's important for us, as organizers of this vote, is that we have glorious participation of the people," he said.

Khatami, who served two terms as president, won with majorities made up mainly of youth and women. He promised to bring Iran out of its international isolation and pressed for more personal and legal freedoms. His proposed policies, while supported by parliament, were constantly opposed by political factions in the judiciary, the Revolutionary Guard Corps and influential clerical councils.

The factions were divided on the question of whether to alter the Islamic system or stick with the status quo. As the debate played out, political newspapers were founded and closed, students demonstrated, and dozens of activists, politicians and journalists were arrested. The polarization ended when Ahmadinejad's election in 2005 brought a gradual political takeover by groups opposing change.


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